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I don’t know about you, but we have always lived in “ready-made” apartments or houses. Throughout our working life, we moved from “temporary quarters” of one room to one set of rooms to another set of rooms and then to a full-fledged “permanent” house or flat — only to repeat the entire sequence in the next town we were posted to.

This was also the case when we were children and teenagers, since both sets of parents were in “transferable” government/military jobs. We just packed up and left and put down roots — and did it all over again a couple of months or years down the road.

Even when we finally moved into our own home, our true-to-the-word “permanent” residence, it was all ready for us with cupboards and platforms and fans and lights and plug points neatly placed and fully functional. All we had to do was move our furniture and other belongings here and there and make ourselves comfortable. Needless to say, that process took us much longer in our own home than elsewhere, maybe because we wanted to “get it right”, to have it all “set”, with some things within arm’s reach and others out of sight or disguised as something else in a hidden nook.

On and off, we visited the homes of our friends or family who had built their own houses from scratch: from blueprint to walls and everything else. Of course, we admired the happy space they had created for themselves and the many little creature comforts and creative touches they had included. At no time, however, did we give them their requisite due for thinking every minor detail through — not because we were not generous spirited enough, but because we had no idea what went into building anything!

It was this happy ignorance that led us to embark on minor renovations to our little apartment: a bathroom to be redone, a new nook for our washing machine, a narrow corridor, a couple of new windows with safety grills … How difficult could it be, we said. Others had done all this and much more and never mentioned any problems, so we could surely get our work done swiftly and smoothly.

Of course, we called in the experts: the plumber, the electrician, the mason, the fabricator, the tile-layer … The list was suddenly endless. What’s more, what we had presumed to be a simple replacement of tiles, addition of switches and rerouting of pipes involved endless decisions on our parts.

Now some of you may have worked out a wonderful work equation in your daily lives, especially if you and your spouse have been together for longer than three or four years, but we — we aren’t in that happy category and have spent three, nearly four, decades debating every minor decision in our everyday routine. It could go something like this:

“Banana or papaya today?”

“Um, what did we have yesterday?”

“Why can’t you remember? Why do I have to?”

“But why did you ask?”

… and so on, in that vein.

If we are capable of building an argument of monumental proportions out of a simple choice of fruit, you can imagine what happened when we had to decide whether we should have vertical or horizontal safety bars for our windows, which plug and which switch went where, how high bolts should be placed, pros and cons, decision after decision …

It was a prolonged nightmare!

And suddenly our perception of all those owners of all those houses we had admired changed. We realised that they were much more intelligent, practical, artistic, decisive, et cetera, than we had given them credit for.

Maybe we should invite one of them in to give us directions — but that would be another decision to debate, wouldn’t it?

— Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India